The case for a flexible working culture: How we’ve made working from home work.

Tim Hopma 4 years ago

Whilst flexible working has long been an established policy here at Zazzle Media, it’s fair to say that lockdown brought many unexpected challenges.

Working from home is a culture that many organisations were dragged, in many cases kicking and screaming, into. The opposition to more flexible and remote working models was well established. Cultural factors, operational efficiency, technological capabilities and questions over collaborative working were all often raised and, in some respects, with good reason.

But as COVID-19 forced this change upon businesses, the argument for reverting back to the old ways of doing things seems to become weaker and weaker by the day.

As an agency, we have seen many sides of this shift to remote working. As we have adopted and embraced home working and reduced business travel to ensure the safety of our teams, so too have many of our clients. It has given us many different perspectives on how different organisations are continuing to work, collaborate and deliver.

So what have we seen from our experience of lockdown, and why do we think that organisations should embrace more of a working from home culture?

Trust empowers employees to be focused, creative and effective

Perhaps many organisations didn’t want to say it out loud, but trust was inevitably a big objection to a wider adoption of home working before COVID-19, and a big concern as many organisations were forced to embrace it.

Trust is undoubtedly a big deal, but it is also undoubtedly a two-way street. What we have found, both from our own teams and from the teams that represent our clients, is that employees have embraced the autonomy and trust that home working has bestowed upon them. The argument that teams need to be under constant supervision and micromanagement doesn’t seem to stack up.

“As we adapted to working from home, we encouraged and entrusted our teams to deliver their work on their own terms. If they wanted to work late, start early or break up their day, we let them do it. Our teams are still delivering, still producing outstanding work and being as creative as ever.”

We have also allowed our teams to develop their own dedicated spaces to support them with the transition to home working.

We know that home working is better and more suitable for some of our team than it is for others, and many of them are itching to get back to the office in one way, shape or form. We have members of our team that have childcare and home-schooling commitments to fit into their working day, members of the team who live in house shares with other people and we have colleagues who perhaps don’t have a spare room that they can convert into a makeshift office.

Our solution to this has been to let our teams find a space that works for them and a flexible way of working that works for them, whether it relates to their working area or their daily routine. We are very mindful that asking people to set up laptops, monitors and office equipment in their own homes is something of an imposition, and we’ve tried to minimise this as much as possible.

We’ve been able to back this approach through our values, and specifically the support networks that are there for mental wellbeing. Through these support networks, we’ve been able to ensure that we retain the Zazzle culture, help our team stay connected to each other and, perhaps most importantly, help them maintain their work-life balance and feel supported.

Embracing home working in this way has also allowed us to have a much more focused team. Certainly when it comes to technical and creative teams, we have been able to create much more focused periods of time by setting aside dedicated periods for calls and meetings – something that is much easier to do when you’re not desperately trying to align attendee schedules with a vacant meeting room.

This approach has allowed us to maintain that all-so-important collaboration whilst reducing avoidable distractions. When some research suggests that it takes 23 minutes for someone to regain concentration after an interruption, that is a clear business case for a more structured approach to the working day to help people remain concentrated on the task at hand.

It is an approach that seems to be gaining the support of our clients, many of whom have expressed how well the transition to home working has worked and how they have seen the levels of communication, creativity and delivery maintained. Many of these clients have adopted similar policies and these policies are working for them.

The key here is flexibility. If you want to get the most of your staff, give them that degree of flexibility and autonomy. They’ll very quickly reward you.

Talent pools are broadened

One of the biggest challenges for organisations is the level of competition when it comes to talent recruitment. The best people are in demand, which in turn has tended to push up recruitment costs but despite that competition, many organisations have historically confined their talent pools to their local commuter belt.

But in a world when we can all work remotely, why would an organisation limit its recruitment to those that either are in, or can and are willing to locate to, an area in easy reach of their offices? Not only does it limit the pool of talent that we have, it also discourages talent from entering industries that tend to be quite city centric.

“It doesn’t make sense for any organisation to dismiss talent on the basis of their postcode. We want the best people in the business – people who understand our industry and our markets, who have incredible ideas and who can do great work for our clients. We don’t believe that all live in the same place, so why would we recruit as if they do?”

Working from home has meant that our teams have not only benefited from ditching their (in some cases, expensive) commuting costs, but they have also been able to embrace the additional time that they have had with their friends and families.

Another step to getting that work-life balance where it needs to be

The place where we find ourselves now is where we have found the biggest benefits both as an agency and for our clients. People are spending more of their free time doing the things that they want to do, and that manifests itself in better rested, more motivated teams.

There have been occasions where some of our teams have reported that home working has perhaps encroached slightly more into their free time, but that is absolutely something that we can work with our teams to manage. What is harder to manage are those external factors, such as train cancellations, roadworks and crowded buses that can all influence how happy our people are at work.

Trust and a healthy work-life balance have a big impact on attrition, recruitment and team stability. This is where our approach, and the approaches that we are seeing many of our clients adopt, are helping to bring the best out of their respective teams. Whilst we were never an agency that believed in shoulder-surfing micromanagement, allowing our teams to take more control over the way they work has undoubtedly aided us in maintaining a happy, passionate team that is still producing some incredible work.

“We have trusted our teams to take more control over their work during this period and they have more than repaid that trust. From day one, our teams embraced the concept of remote working and it clear from the feedback that we are getting from our client surveys that the standard of work has maintained its exceptionally high standards.

That doesn’t mean to say that we have maintained an arms-length approach. Our teams still have access to support if they need it and we still want to foster that spirit of collaboration that we know results in some of our best ideas, but “trust” is once again that key word.

When an organisation trusts its teams and that trust is repaid, the arguments for returning “back to normal” seem less and less compelling.

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